A riveting new film titled “Maybe Next Year” seeks to set the record straight on misunderstood Eagles fans. Those crazed midnight-green warriors might be viewed as eccentric “whack jobs” to uninformed outsiders. That’s because they don’t get it. They never will.
“Listen, Philadelphia gets a bad rap,” Barry “The Hatchet” Vagnoni told Heavy.com. “The greatest sports fans — and not only football, I’m talking all the sports — the greatest sports fans are Philadelphia Eagles fans, bar none. This is my 66th year as an Eagles whack job.”
The documentary was directed by Kyle Thrash, a lifelong Eagles fan and Drexel alum who wanted to cast a “humanizing light” on one of the most notorious fan bases in sports. It chronicles the 2017 Super Bowl season through the eyes of four diehards — Barry, Jesse, Shirley, Bryant — as they explain the reasons for their deep-rooted fandom and what makes them tick. The film gets released nationwide on Nov. 10 and is available for pre-order.
“The national media, they kill us,” said “Eagles” Shirley Dash. “This film, Maybe Next Year, they will get it. If they didn’t get it after Rocky, and that was just a character in a movie. We are real people going through real-life scenarios and we are passionate about our football team. When we lose, we lose big … but when we win, look at how we came together in that Super Bowl.”
Filming started in 2016 and lasted “50 something days,” per Thrash. Editing took about a year, pleasantly delayed and punctuated by the improbable hoisting of the Lombardi Trophy. Camera crews followed the four fans around 24/7 for all-access glimpses into their lives, including trips to Shirley’s hairdresser and into Barry’s massive man cave. The result is a nuanced love letter to Philly.
“A lot of people have preconceived notions of what an Eagles fan is and I tried to peel back the layers of their extreme passion to try and understand what makes them tick,” Thrash said. “Hopefully by doing that the viewer will be able to relate to the characters on a human level whether they are a fan of the team or not.”
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‘The Most Happy Fella’ Takes Center Stage
Barry Vagnoni, known as “The Hatchet” to friends and family, might be the most famous Eagles fan in America. He has been profiled in local newspapers and magazines while appearing on national talk shows and news programs. His famed 2,000-square-foot “Locker Room” was named the top man cave in the country by VICE, thanks to a dizzying array of 16 flat-screen TVs and 9×16 high-definition projection unit that makes “you feel like you’re in the huddle.”
Not only that, the bathroom stalls are outfitted with Dallas Cowboys logos, for obvious reasons — plus, the walls are lined with autographed Eagles memorabilia and a sound system that can “rival any night club in Philly or New York.” Think “Field of Dreams” for Eagles fans, one that traded cornfields for bleacher seats.
“I talked my lovely wife into it,” Vagnoni said. “I sold my business in 2004 and we were going to build a retirement home in Florida and one night I couldn’t sleep and was watching “Field of Dreams” and a light bulb went off: if you build it, they will come.”
How did Barry convince her? Well, he talked her into it by sending her on a shopping spree to the King of Prussia Mall. It was an easy sell, especially now that he’s the star of what everyone involved believes is a timeless film.
“She’s a saint. I am very blessed,” Vagnoni said. “This movie is just phenomenal. It’s the Rocky for football fans. It celebrates the underdog, everyone, you feel like an underdog at some point in your life.”
The 73-year-old grandfather calls himself the “Most Happy Fella,” a moniker originally belonging to his dad who starred in the famous play of the same name on Broadway in the 1950s. Emidio Vagnoni (stage name: Shorty Long) played the lead role of Herman and was a country music entertainer who played piano for Elvis Presley on classic hits like “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
Barry doesn’t really believe in superstitions, but he does hold onto a solid silver cigarette lighter that Presley gave to his dad as a retirement gift. And he rubs that good-luck charm vigorously on Eagles game days.
“I almost squashed it on that Hail Mary at the end of the Super Bowl,” Barry said.
When the final whistle blew in Super Bowl LII, following that brief scare on Tom Brady’s failed Hail Mary, the tears came streaming down Barry’s face and he immediately thought of his dad who died in 1991 due to pancreatic cancer. He had been rubbing that lighter all night. The old “hound dog” worked.
“First thing I thought of when that gun went off and we were declared Super Bowl champions was my dad,” Barry said. “He would have loved to be there with me on that special day.”
A Dash of Shirley Bleeds Green
Another major character in “Maybe Next Year” is Shirley Dash, a well-known Philly podcaster and Eagles superfan. She grew up mesmerized by the blue-collar brand of football established by Buddy Ryan’s teams in the late 1980s. After years of begging her older brother, Sherman, to teach her the rules of the game, he finally (and begrudgingly) did. And created a monster in the process.
“He said, one day if I teach you about the game, will you leave me alone?” Dash told Heavy.com. “It wasn’t until in my early 20s that we started watching football games together. I think I was too loud for him. He created a monster.”
Dash, who was part of another Eagles documentary in 2005, has a certain aura of celebrity about her, too. She is a frequent call-in guest on SportsRadio 94WIP and runs a Football 101 clinic at her church. The IT professional received an email to be part of “Maybe Next Year” while she was at an Eagles game in 2018 and, after doing her proper due diligence to see if it was legit, she enthusiastically signed up for the project.
“By me being single, if I was dating somebody, they wanted to follow me on the date. I was like ‘Oh my God.’ This is too personal,” Dash recalled. “But they (the camera crew) were so awesome and respectful. It’s an emotional film. When they play that Rocky theme music, you already know how you gonna feel … it’s the same feeling but it’s like a Rocky for the new modern-age.”
That Rocky music was blaring loudly on the night of Feb. 4, 2018, after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Dash watched it at the Marriott hotel in Center City, living and dying on every turnover and touchdown. When the score went final, 41-33, she crumpled to the floor and couldn’t move. Tense, terse, cramped. Then, she got emotional thinking of her mom who died in 2010.
“She always said don’t stop, don’t give up — and we had to wait for that ball to drop incomplete,” Dash said. “I thought I was going to pass out from not being able to breathe. I was crying, I was on the floor. They had to pick me up and carry me into the elevator, and the tears wouldn’t stop coming out of my eyes.”
These are the inexplicable and true stories that “Maybe Next Year” attempts to tell. Why? So that maybe someday people will better understand Eagles fans.
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